The conventional wisdom on Putin is dangerously wrong

It is no small irony that the same American politicos and journalists who are quick to accuse their domestic political opponents of acting in bad faith now go to impressive lengths to take the Russian president at his word, and to see him as a man whose actions are, if foolish, at least driven by an understandable sense of self-preservation and a realist’s principled opposition to disorder. Indeed, when there are no cameras around, those friendly to the administration will tell you that Putin’s intervention is actually a great boon to American policy, and that our opposition to Assad has been misguided from the start. This wing of American politics, the members of which seem to believe that they are “realists,” believes that the American presence in the Middle East is at the root of the instability there.

Putin understands this all too well, and much of his UN speech was pitched directly at the consciences of these men and women. It was impossible not to chuckle at the strongman’s chutzpah when, nearing his conclusion, Putin explained his hope to partner with other nations on an “issue that shall affect the future of the entire humankind”—climate change. In his recent 60 Minutes interview with Charlie Rose, Putin parried a question about the rule of law in Russia by invoking American race relations—a tried and true rhetorical gambit of the Soviet era…

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